how not to hire a conductor

I have a snow day today, so I’m killing time surfing choralnet, and I ran across this ad for a conductor which calls for

  • Music Degree(s) with conducting experience
  • Demonstrate ability to conduct a interesting and productive rehearsal with skill in vocal production
  • Must have tools and techniques to share musical knowledge, dynamic nuance, and inspire singers with great skill and passion
  • Able to form good relationships with chorus members, work with Chorus board (as a member) and with the symphony leadership
  • Must be able to choose and plan masterwork literature (some in conjunction with the Symphony Conductor) suitable for concerts
  • Oversee purchase of all music

I don’t mean to pick on this particular organization.  I only read the ad because they’re in Asheville, NC, which is near where my in-laws live (just east of Central Nowhere).  But let’s go through how this particular ad is just one of many which demonstrates the common problems with community organizations who need to hire conductors…

  • Music Degree(s) with conducting experience

This sounds ominous.  It is what made me want to write about this.  This suggests that they’ve either given up any hope of finding a real conductor, or they are just hopelessly clueless about what the work of conducting really entails–as as will be any violinist they might hire to conduct them.  Most undergraduate music programs to require one or two semesters of conducting training.  But would you hire a piano player to teach saxophone just because he took one semester of woodwind methods?   Even if the pianist has taught saxophone before, that doesn’t mean he was any good at it.  Lots of musicians have conducting experience–that semester of undergrad conducting is way more than most amateurs we work with have, so we get recruited to lead stuff.  And that gets called “conducting.”  People put it on their resumes as “conducting experience.”  And it’s better than nothing.

But what they’re really looking for is a person with at least an undergraduate degree in choral music education, who will have the pedagogical skills they go on to describe.

So maybe that’s what they mean, but they don’t want to preclude the exceptional individual who got a degree in piano but also studied voice and education.  I hope this is the case.  But it sounds ominous.

  • Demonstrate ability to conduct a interesting and productive rehearsal with skill in vocal production

I leave aside the typo and look at the content, which is good.  Demonstrate… skill in vocal production… I’m assuming this means they want someone who can help them sing well, with vocal pedagogy skills among their arsenal of techniques to get the choir to sound good.  Again, this comes with training.  A good singer with an degree in education.

Unfortunately, most singers’ vocal training has been given to them by their past conductors, who may or may not have had any idea what they were doing.  But those singers have no way of evaluating that, so they just assume that someone who may or may not have any idea what they are doing is right.  “He’s the expert standing on the podium, he must be right!” they think.  And that’s reasonable.  But not necessarily true.

  • Must have tools and techniques to share musical knowledge, dynamic nuance, and inspire singers with great skill and passion

Skill and artistry.  Yes.  Good!  I really hope they mean this, and look for training to back it up.

  • Able to form good relationships with chorus members, work with Chorus board (as a member) and with the symphony leadership

“Not a jerk who flails.”

  • Must be able to choose and plan masterwork literature (some in conjunction with the Symphony Conductor) suitable for concerts

Arright.

  • Oversee purchase of all music

Right.

Anyway, it’s not a horrible ad, and they’ll probably find a decent conductor.  But it does demonstrate exactly the pervasive confusion about what a conductor does and what non-conductors think they should look for.

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